12-29-17- Word in Flesh

What good are words if they’re never put into action? What good is a God you cannot see?

These may not be valid questions, or mature – but they are honest ones. And I rejoice in worshipping a God who made himself visible. God may have hoped humanity would understand her nearness and feel her love through messages and messengers, but in the fullness of time God entered human life in a radical way, specifically and particularly. That is the heart of this week’s good news for me:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

That word “dwelt” can be rendered “abided with” or, most literally “pitched tent among.” The story of God, so far away, so holy, so “other,” moving into our neighborhood and settling down so that we can draw near – that’s a story that never gets old. I feel frustrated in how to convey it as Good News to a people for whom it has become hum-drum, and to others for whom “God” is entirely irrelevant, but I believe it is the heart of the gift Christians have for the world.

I know it’s hard for us to “see” that Word made flesh in our time, risen and ascended into heaven as he is, but through his Spirit we are able to know him in relationship. I will continue to seek to get inside that mystery and discover the “Word made flesh” who wants to know me and be known by me.

As Madeleine L’Engle wrote in her poem, “First Coming” (printed in full in the note I sent yesterday):

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

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12-28-17 - Becoming Children

Some say that Christmas is for children; as we age the anticipation dims, the mystery dissipates. We affirm with our minds what all the fuss is about, but we also know it will come around again. I was already a little jaded by college, writing in my journal, “I can’t get more excited about Christ being born just because the calendar says December 25th than I am the other 364 days of the year.”

But for children, Christmas is often a heightened time - the growing pile of presents under the tree, the dazzling ornaments, special treats baked only once a year, dressing up and staying up, the pageant and the carols. I remember Christmas; what would it be like to feel that wonder again?

Jesus said we had to become like children to receive the kingdom of God. In the prologue to John’s Gospel, which we’re exploring this week, we learn how that happens:
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Power to become children of God – what an interesting phrase. We don’t always associate power with childhood. And who can get themselves born, especially by the will of God? That is something we have no power over whatsoever. And yet that is the paradox of faith – when we exercise our will to believe in Christ, by faith, not sight, we receive power to give our power away. When we give our power away in vulnerability and trust (I’m not talking about when it’s taken by force…), we are more free to receive.

I pray for the grace to receive the gift of wonder and joy and openness available to children; adulthood isn’t a lot of fun for me right now. And maybe that’s the point – adulthood is where we live; childhood – in its best sense – is like that realm of God that coexists with this world. As we let our faith grow, we get to spend more time in that land of wonder, where things are always new again and mysteries present themselves for the unwrapping.
As I write this, I recall that today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the slaying of two-year-old boys in Judea at the order of a paranoid King Herod (Matthew 2). Childhood gives cause for wonderment of all sorts, not just beauty. But as children do, we can process death and tragedy within relationships of trust, such as God invites us into.
God has so many gifts for us; we need to receive them with hands outstretched like a child catching snowflakes.

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12-27-17 - Witnessing to Light

The cosmic first paragraph of John’s gospel ends with a declaration for all time: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

And then the writer brings us down to earth with a thud, introducing his first human character. One might expect that person to be this Word, this Life, this Light, but no – the first one to be mentioned is John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

A little later in the Gospel, we will hear John himself clarify his identity as one who testifies, who is not himself the light. John was God’s messenger, and like all God’s messengers, he pointed not to himself, but to the Life of God. In the darkness of his era, he pointed to the Light.

Many people I know perceive a deep darkness in our current age. In response to global and national events, some careen from outrage to terror to disgust at seeing basic human rights and freedoms jeopardized by a ruling elite that seems to delight in division and destruction, to privilege the already privileged at the expense of the vulnerable, to reward those who plunder the natural beauty of this world and its creatures for their own gain. It can be hard to be hopeful.

On the personal plane, depression and addiction, suicide and despair are disconcertingly prevalent, while the resources for helping those caught in these cycles get stretched thinner. As mistrust among people and with religious organizations grows, the sense of darkness enshrouding us gets stronger. What about that light who has overcome the darkness?

Yes. The Light of the world is still here. He still resides in us, and we are still called to testify to the reality of him, and not only when we feel like it. As it did for John, it needs to become part of our deepest identity. If we trust the Light is real, the Light is true, the Light is here; if we have seen Christ shine light into shadow places, to heal and restore and renew what is broken, then we have testimony to offer.

And boy, do we need to hear it. At this time in my own life it can be hard to see where hope lies, and I need to remember that this is my call, my mission, not just as an ordained person but as a Christ follower. In fact, in prayer recently I sensed God say I was to develop my ability to see in the dark. To do that, I have to trust in the Light I carry.

What is the darkest place you know of right now? Who is in the deepest despair? 
Go, and testify there to the Light you know, the light you have known.

Perhaps that is all the church is supposed to be doing right now, testifying to the Light who is Jesus. This Light has an interesting property - it gets brighter and stronger in this world the more we point it out. Everybody wins.

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12-26-17 - Love in the Abstract

Abstract or concrete? Philosophy or narrative? How do you take your theology? Straight up or with a twist? The gospels are flexible enough to incorporate many learning styles.

On Christmas Eve, we are steeped in story, personal and intimate, sweeping and glorious, each element a rich vein of symbol and language to convey how much God loves us. And then, on the first Sunday after Christmas, we make a sharp turn to the prologue of the Gospel of John, which is as abstract as a love story could possibly get.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Right off the bat, we are invited to suspend our literal mindedness (“how can something be with God and be God?”) and enter a swirl of words that convey a truth. What does “Word” mean? Most likely “logos,” translated as “word,” means something closer to the “mind” or the “primal thought” of God. Does that make it more or less confusing?

That first paragraph tells the whole story – of what was before we were, of creation, of life and light, and light overcoming darkness. In theological language, we see the doctrines of God, Creation, Incarnation, Salvation – all in a few short lines.

But on Boxing Day, who is thinking about theological doctrines? Some of us are cleaning up, putting out bags of torn Christmas wrap. We may be enjoying another day with family and friends, or just resting from the frenzy. I hope no ons is taking down Christmas decorations, as we have a full ten days more of Christmas to celebrate. (That siren you hear is the liturgical police ready to pull you over….)

If you take some devotional time today, you might read over the passage several times, slowly, and see where you get snagged. If something is confusing, take note. If something is pleasing, read that part again. What is the overall sense you come away with? What is the heart of the passage?

However it is that you best comprehend the story of God’s amazing love and desire to be close to you, I hope you are both shaken and stirred.

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